Why would we legalise violence against women in Scotland?

Columnist Cath Sullivan examines calls for the decriminalisation of prostitution.

JEAN URQUHART has very understandably launched a campaign to decriminalise prostitution. I can see where she is coming from. Women in prostitution are walking a fine line, negotiating danger every time they go out on the streets while also trying to avoid the surveillance of the police.

I have no doubt that most of the women would like prostitution to be decriminalised since it would remove the stress of being arrested and being processed through the criminal justice system. The nuisance of being held in police cells appearing in court, paying fines and being accountable to a penal system. You can see how trying to avoid detection and abide by curfews can make looking after safety issues harder - eg working alone, being unable to report assaults or other crimes.

Although it is hard to drive street prostitution underground. Most cities have surveillance information and know who the woman are. This affords some limited safety.

"There is a cultural view that prostitution is OK - just monetary exchange for a normal, consensual activity. I once held this view myself."

We may know less about what is happening indoors.

The problem is that if you decriminalise prostitution you legitimise violence against women. Women do not chose prostitution as a progressive career choice and I do not believe those who would argue that they do so.

They are driven to prostitution through poverty and addiction and lack of other positive choices where they are coerced and controlled by men. They do not chose prostitution over a salaried, fair paid job and they do not retain control of their lives afterwards. It is hardly the 'job' that most men - including those who exploit the women - would choose for their daughters, partners or mothers. So why is it okay for others?

There is a cultural view that prostitution is OK - just monetary exchange for a normal, consensual activity. I once held this view myself.

Whilst some women may say it's their right, the reality is not the glamour image of an empowered woman at a bar having a right to make money after a night of sex which she enjoys. It's men exploiting vulnerable women who have little power or control over the situation. The majority of the men expect something more in return for payment and that often involves pain. Otherwise they would not be there.

There is a current paternalistic attitude towards women in prostitution. Prostitutes are controlled by men on the streets and then by men in positions of power. One councillor at a meeting in Glasgow told other councillors he was chairman of the violence against women partnership to give it 'gravitas'. I would have thought a woman might have been good in that chair.

There is a zero tolerance to prostitution and woman are faced with criminalisation in a male dominated criminal justice system. You can see why women would want this to change. They are coerced by the men and then by the paternalistic authorities who have them under surveillance - possibly for their own good - but who basically want them off the street. They just want the authorities to leave them alone.

However, we cannot legalise and thus legitimise prostitution. The Scottish Government Violence against Women policies have rightly recognised the place of prostitution within this. If you look at the backgrounds of many women in prostitution they have been victims of childhood, physical and sexual abuse, rape, associated trauma and mental health problems, personality disorder, domestic violence and subsequent addiction.

"Prostitution is gender based violence and it exists for the same reason as other forms of violence against women."

It is overwhelmingly these factors that drive them towards other men who exploit them and who employ them on the streets. I repeat there is no glamour in this despite what some folk may argue. It is not women doing what they enjoy and are good at. They have no other options.

Even if you could believe the few women who say it's okay for them, it is quite clearly not okay for all the others. That's who we have to consider.

An exhibition a few years ago in GOMA - constructed from quotes from a popular online prostitute review forum - listed the demands men have for paying women for sex. They involved hurting the woman, doing things they would never ask their wife or girlfriends to do and the glory of having this power over the women. None of the descriptions from the women showed pleasure but rather pointed towards fear coercion and compliance. This was an important exhibition since we have historically been better at making assumptions than raising awareness.

The Scottish Government does recognise the exploitative nature of prostitution within its violence against women strategies and subsequent policies. Prostitution is gender based violence and it exists for the same reason as other forms of violence against women.

"If we want to combat violence against women and prostitution then we need to start with challenging gender stereotypes and addressing inequality issues."

It starts from our gender stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination against women, give women their place and which enable men to become perpetrators. The answers start with anti discriminatory policies which is why the Scottish Government set up partnerships, emphasising awareness training. If we want to combat violence against women and prostitution then we need to start with challenging gender stereotypes and addressing inequality issues.

The answer does not lie in legitimising this form of exploitation and violence. That legitimizes the men. This would increase the market and exploitation and further weaken the overall position of women in our society.

Like all market situations I would approach this from a demand basis. If men were not queuing up to exploit women then we would not have prostitution. We currently criminalise the supply. The women have the double jeopardy of being exploited by the men and penalised by the system.

I do not agree with Jean Urquhart. Her approach rests on legalising prostitution, legitimizing the men and - then - trying to work out which women are being coerced. How would this be defined identified and policed? What factors would identify whether or not a woman was coerced? Would it be sufficient if the woman simply said that she had agreed to prostitution?

This is too complicated for any legal and social process to deal with. Why would we want to go down this road to legitimize something that is not required and then try and filter out the - inevitable - plentiful - victims? Surely we regard our female population too highly to take such risks?

Why instead do we not concentrate on the demand side - the men?

The answer to this is simple: it is easier to pick on women. They are easier to identify, to arrest, to control.

What could we do instead? We could consider offering women realistic opportunities away from prostitution that are inclusive and meaningful. Proper choices. We could keep prostitution illegal, stop punishing the women and concentrate resources in taking the men out of the system. Start prosecuting the men instead of the women.

Perhaps there are too many men making money out of exploiting women - and too many men who use prostitutes - for this to be possible.

However, a society that truly values its women and is fair and equal will not have these problems. Prostitution would not be considered.

Picture courtesy of Alejandro Forero Cuervo

Comments

airchie

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 10:35

I disagree with some of what you've said, like "They involved hurting the woman, doing things they would never ask their wife or girlfriends to do and the glory of having this power over the women.". Whilst some men do indeed get off on this power or on inflicting pain, it is not ALL men who want that. Plenty of men use prostitutes to have sex when they are unable to get it without paying for it or for numerous other reasons. Also, you forget to take into account male escorts, rent boys, etc though obviously their number almost pales into insignificance compared to female prostitutes.

However, I do agree that more should be done to prevent violence and to help women who are on the game for the wrong reasons. Legalising prostitution doesn't harm this aim, it helps it. If prostitution is legal, authorities, who as you already stated often know the women involved, are free to assist them with anything they need without feeling obligated to arrest them. This opens the door to offering what you suggest as a solution, like better opportunities away from the sex trade, counselling, social services assistance etc.

From there, only the women who actually want to sell sex will be doing so. There will always be a demand for it and thus there's almost always going to be women (and men) supplying it. Surely making it as safe as possible for all concerned with easy routes to exit the industry if desired is the best way forward? This is, as I understand it, what the women on the front line actually want, surely they're best-placed to suggest solutions?

airchie

Mon, 02/15/2016 - 06:39

@Ian.

Thanks for those graphic mental images but I'm afraid they don't prove anything.
A woman who isn't a prostitute can be a bad mother just as much as a prostitute can be a good mother. Currently it's a filthy business because the law actively works against cleaning it up and making it safer for those involved. The oldest profession isn't going to go away even if you do ban it. Banning it won't make children safer, regulating it so that the people working in the industry might be able to get decent childcare might however.

DougDaniel

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 10:06

"I do not agree with Jean Urquhart. Her approach rests on legalising prostitution, legitimizing the men"

No, her approach rests on listening to the people most affected by current legislation - sex workers themselves - and using that to inform her actions. The writer of this article is going for the same failed ideological approach that has led us to the current situation, where sex workers are put at risk because of people's desire to stop something that simply isn't going to be stopped.

In what other sphere of life would we be happy for laws to be made without input from the people most affected by them? Surely we all want evidence-based laws? Except when it comes to banning things we would like to pretend don't go on, of course.

Jean (and Margo before her) cares about the welfare of the women involved. Her approach is likely to result in LESS violence against women. Not one of the laws she is calling to be revoked does anything to improve the safety or welfare of the women involved in the industry, and most of them actually put women at increased risk.

Let's try listening to the women affected by these laws for once, eh?

Jim Bennett (not verified)

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 19:05

Surely simply legalise sex for sale but prosecute its purchase. Keeps the victims out of the criminal justice system but focuses on criminalising the market?

Fearchar MacIll... (not verified)

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 11:45

"The majority of the men expect something more in return for payment and that often involves pain. Otherwise they would not be there."

And the data to back up that assertion is where?

Assumptions like this are unlikely to be the basis of Jean Urquhart's approach, as it is debated by fellow MSPs: so why should your wishful thinking be allowed to pass without scrutiny?

First Do No Har... (not verified)

Sat, 10/03/2015 - 10:44

There is one sentence in this article that gives me hope: "I once held this view myself."

The ability of a person to change their views based on new information is one of the healthiest and most exciting aspects of human nature.

I also "once held" many of the views in this article. However, the more I read about human rights, and about participation, agency and voice - and the more I subsequently read research with and by sex workers - the more I find articles like this really really really sad to see. Especially so given that these kinds of views seem to dominate so much of the civil society space in Scotland and the UK.

A friend on the other side of the world asked me recently for help on articulating the arguments they instinctively felt they agreed with in terms of sex workers rights, but struggled to argue coherently for when faced with people making points like those in the above article in meetings and public forums they attend. Only after sending it off did I realise it could be useful in responding to this article too, so here it is:

---

Sex workers see themselves as part of solutions, not as part of problems, and are welcoming of all who will stand alongside them to fight for their human rights. But for allies and would-be allies, we need to do some personal development work in examining and challenging our presuppositions and inherited beliefs if we are indeed to be helpful and not get in the way.

So... here are three things a lot of people don't know.

1. Many sex workers take pride in their work

This can be an artistic or artisanal sense of pride: like understanding human bodies and the art of touch; or singing and dancing; or fashion, style, clothes and looking fabulous; or mastering multiple languages, conversation and listening skills; or using body language, intuition and experience to understand people who struggle to express themselves sexually. (Remember too that there is huge diversity in the range of jobs sex workers do, and they do not all involve sexual intercourse.)

This pride can also be a more working class kind of pride, something along the lines of: "My job pays the bills and feeds my children, who the **** are you to tell me that job is not good enough?" The recent film about LGBT activists working in solidarity with striking coal miners in the UK in the 1980s was titled "Pride" because the word resonates strongly with both communities. You don't have to enjoy a dirty, dangerous, difficult (3D) job like digging coal deep under ground in order to appreciate the community, solidarity and sense of achievement (pride) in providing for your family.

So harm reduction policies or proposals (even good ones) that are based on an assumption that all sex workers would 'obviously' exit from sex work at the earliest opportunity will likely meet opposition and fail. Many sex workers argue that the right to sell sexual services is a human right they are entitled to (or, more technically, they assert their right not to be discriminated against as a consequence of their choices of consensual adult sexual partners) and that sex workers can in fact thrive in safe and healthy and even enjoyable environments.

We cannot ignore or over-rule other people's feelings and choices about what they do with their bodies - principles already well-established in the fields of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and in sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) rights. This is especially true when our reactions are often really more to do with the fact that "their" sexual choices are very different from "my" sexual choices.

So whatever strategies we support to address HIV/AIDS, or reduce violence against sex workers, or support people who use drugs, they must take into account the full spectrum of sex workers, including those who take pride in their work.

2. A job does not need to have a progressive career path in order to be valid work.

The idea of a career path - and the associated steady accumulation of wealth to pay for old age and pass on as inheritance - is ever so slightly privileged and middle class. It is certainly a luxury beyond the reach of many millions of people whose current level of wealth is measured in a few dollars per day, and whose existence is day-to-day subsistence rather than making 5, 10 (or 25) year career and investment plans. Even the poorest in the world do try and save and pass on what they can to their children, but often people's savings barely cover the costs of unexpected medical treatment.

Domestic work and a host of other manual labour jobs from seasonal agricultural work to garment factories do not necessarily provide a 'progressive career', yet they are still accepted as legitimate, if low paid, forms of work. Work that in the case of migrants is very often recognised to be better than the alternative opportunities back home. Sex work usually provides significantly higher income over shorter periods of time, with more flexibility than other available options such as domestic, agricultural or factory work. Sex workers often say their job is the best of their available options right now, in their judgement.

("My grandparents were fruit pickers, my parents were fruit pickers, and I'll be a fruit picker" ... paraphrased quote from the movie "McFarland, USA")

3. The existence of violence or abuse in an industry, including sexual violence, does not invalidate that entire line of work.

Violence is never justified outside of self defence. And sexual violence is never justified ever. All reasonable, victim-centred and rights-based efforts to prevent violence should be followed in private, public and state sectors. However, consistency, logic and common sense is called for, especially with an understanding of points 1 and 2 above.

Bus drivers in some places (like Glasgow!) are protected by reinforced plastic (Kevlar?) screens because assault of drivers was too common; trains and council offices sometimes display public information posters reminding people of staff's right to work in an environment free from violence. Nightclubs, bars, and hospital emergency departments routinely employ security staff to handle drunk or abusive or violent people. Violence against domestic workers, including sexual violence, is sadly too common, and too invisible.

In all these areas of work there are measures that can, should and are being taken to reduce and prevent violence against workers, including working with law enforcement. But nobody ever suggests 'abolishing' bars and nightclubs, or claims that driving a bus is an inherent form of violence. Nor do we send SWAT teams to raid people's homes and extract (against their will) domestic workers who miss their family and are saving their money, just because they look a bit young, or sad, or don't go out much.

Sex workers face all the same forms of violence that other people, especially women, experience all over the world: economic, psychological, physical and sexual violence in both private and public spheres. To add insult to injury however, female, male and transgender sex workers often report police themselves to be one of the primary perpetrators of violence against them; and that due to stigma and discrimination, police also very often do not take sex workers' reports of crimes committed against them by other people seriously or appropriately.

Sex workers around the world WANT to talk about the violence they experience, and they WANT to see changes made to increase their safety and reduce cases of violence. But we cannot have a meaningful conversation about violence against sex workers if we fail to distinguish between people's chosen work, and acts of violence committed against them.

In this regard, groups who insist uncompromisingly and ideologically that "all prostitution is violence against women" and resist all measures that would see even limited legal recognition of sex work are a barrier, an obstacle, to addressing violence against sex workers through workplace labour rights and progressive laws and policies including normalising relations with police. In extreme cases this can include victim blaming, failure to take reports of violence, including sexual violence, seriously, and promoting laws and policies that put increased power in the hands of police and abusive men rather than empowering sex workers.

In the words of a South African sex workers' rights activist: ""The criminalisation of sex work amounts to structural violence towards sex workers."

Further reading:

"Mapping sex work policy across the globe" (source of above quote):
http://www.rhmjournal.org.uk/2015/09/mapping-sex-work-policy-across-the-...

"Consensus Statement" from the Global Network of Sex Worker Projects, the international human rights framework applied to sex work, by sex workers:
http://www.nswp.org/resource/nswp-consensus-statement-sex-work-human-rig...

Ian McLean (not verified)

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 18:29

How long dies it take for a reader's comment to appear?

Ian McLean (not verified)

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 18:29

I've read both articles, by Cath Sullivan and Laura Lee, and the readers' comments that followed. All of it amounting to nothing more than the usual blah-blah-bullshit from people who talk about contracts, law, safety at 'work', social attitudes and 'doing the right (or right-on) thing'.

Their cool-headed and carefully crafted observations are typical of the mountains of text that can be generated by a microgram of experience.

All are careful to omit any mention of the largest endangered group who have suffered the horrors of neglect, dirt, disease, social exclusion and every imaginable kind of abuse for generations without respite or help because, shunned by society, they had and have no voice.

So, it looks like everyone is agreed that junkies and drunks who put themselves in danger for the sake of a fix or another shot of alcohol don't have children. If they did, we'd have to contemplate the frightening possibility that dear old Mum is the worst thing that could have happened to them. Their long list of 'uncles' might include a few sexual predators but who's to know and who would care? Best not, then, to mention children at all.

My guess is that none of you has ever encountered a four-year-old girl, matted with muck and covered in sores, left alone in a single-end without heat, light or food. How about a weeping, ten-year-old boy, in similarly bleak surroundings and rigid with fear, clutching so hard at a slice of dry bread that his fingers had pierced it.

Ever been asked for help by a twelve-year-old girl whose mother lay in a drunken stupor with the limp penis of an unconscious stranger draped over her leg, close to her still steaming vagina? Would that give any of you a sleepless night? It would, I suppose, if you were twelve and shared that bed with your mother.

If you're afraid to rock the boat, you cling to the myth of the 'whore with the heart of gold'. The big question, we're told, is whether or not soliciting should be a crime. I'm putting infanticide, physical violence, sexual abuse and neglect way above that on my list of evils directly attributed to the 'work' of good-time-girls who give a fuck for anyone but their children.

Prostitution is neither a public service nor a social necessity. It's a filthy business that has ruined the lives of countless innocent victims. Many of those have managed to rebuild their lives, with courage and commitment that wasn't learned at their mothers' knees, but dark memories prevail.

It would take a great deal of that courage to write an article from that perspective. That's, probably, why I've never read one.

Ban it!

Derek Louden

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 19:05

Surely simply legalise sex for sale but prosecute its purchase. Keeps the victims out of the criminal justice system but focuses on criminalising the market?

Derek Louden

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 10:35

I disagree with some of what you've said, like "They involved hurting the woman, doing things they would never ask their wife or girlfriends to do and the glory of having this power over the women.". Whilst some men do indeed get off on this power or on inflicting pain, it is not ALL men who want that. Plenty of men use prostitutes to have sex when they are unable to get it without paying for it or for numerous other reasons. Also, you forget to take into account male escorts, rent boys, etc though obviously their number almost pales into insignificance compared to female prostitutes.

However, I do agree that more should be done to prevent violence and to help women who are on the game for the wrong reasons. Legalising prostitution doesn't harm this aim, it helps it. If prostitution is legal, authorities, who as you already stated often know the women involved, are free to assist them with anything they need without feeling obligated to arrest them. This opens the door to offering what you suggest as a solution, like better opportunities away from the sex trade, counselling, social services assistance etc.

From there, only the women who actually want to sell sex will be doing so. There will always be a demand for it and thus there's almost always going to be women (and men) supplying it. Surely making it as safe as possible for all concerned with easy routes to exit the industry if desired is the best way forward? This is, as I understand it, what the women on the front line actually want, surely they're best-placed to suggest solutions?

Derek Louden

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 11:45

"The majority of the men expect something more in return for payment and that often involves pain. Otherwise they would not be there."

And the data to back up that assertion is where?

Assumptions like this are unlikely to be the basis of Jean Urquhart's approach, as it is debated by fellow MSPs: so why should your wishful thinking be allowed to pass without scrutiny?

Derek Louden

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 10:06

"I do not agree with Jean Urquhart. Her approach rests on legalising prostitution, legitimizing the men"

No, her approach rests on listening to the people most affected by current legislation - sex workers themselves - and using that to inform her actions. The writer of this article is going for the same failed ideological approach that has led us to the current situation, where sex workers are put at risk because of people's desire to stop something that simply isn't going to be stopped.

In what other sphere of life would we be happy for laws to be made without input from the people most affected by them? Surely we all want evidence-based laws? Except when it comes to banning things we would like to pretend don't go on, of course.

Jean (and Margo before her) cares about the welfare of the women involved. Her approach is likely to result in LESS violence against women. Not one of the laws she is calling to be revoked does anything to improve the safety or welfare of the women involved in the industry, and most of them actually put women at increased risk.

Let's try listening to the women affected by these laws for once, eh?

pictishbeastie

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 19:05

Surely simply legalise sex for sale but prosecute its purchase. Keeps the victims out of the criminal justice system but focuses on criminalising the market?

pictishbeastie

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 10:35

I disagree with some of what you've said, like "They involved hurting the woman, doing things they would never ask their wife or girlfriends to do and the glory of having this power over the women.". Whilst some men do indeed get off on this power or on inflicting pain, it is not ALL men who want that. Plenty of men use prostitutes to have sex when they are unable to get it without paying for it or for numerous other reasons. Also, you forget to take into account male escorts, rent boys, etc though obviously their number almost pales into insignificance compared to female prostitutes.

However, I do agree that more should be done to prevent violence and to help women who are on the game for the wrong reasons. Legalising prostitution doesn't harm this aim, it helps it. If prostitution is legal, authorities, who as you already stated often know the women involved, are free to assist them with anything they need without feeling obligated to arrest them. This opens the door to offering what you suggest as a solution, like better opportunities away from the sex trade, counselling, social services assistance etc.

From there, only the women who actually want to sell sex will be doing so. There will always be a demand for it and thus there's almost always going to be women (and men) supplying it. Surely making it as safe as possible for all concerned with easy routes to exit the industry if desired is the best way forward? This is, as I understand it, what the women on the front line actually want, surely they're best-placed to suggest solutions?

pictishbeastie

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 11:45

"The majority of the men expect something more in return for payment and that often involves pain. Otherwise they would not be there."

And the data to back up that assertion is where?

Assumptions like this are unlikely to be the basis of Jean Urquhart's approach, as it is debated by fellow MSPs: so why should your wishful thinking be allowed to pass without scrutiny?

pictishbeastie

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 10:06

"I do not agree with Jean Urquhart. Her approach rests on legalising prostitution, legitimizing the men"

No, her approach rests on listening to the people most affected by current legislation - sex workers themselves - and using that to inform her actions. The writer of this article is going for the same failed ideological approach that has led us to the current situation, where sex workers are put at risk because of people's desire to stop something that simply isn't going to be stopped.

In what other sphere of life would we be happy for laws to be made without input from the people most affected by them? Surely we all want evidence-based laws? Except when it comes to banning things we would like to pretend don't go on, of course.

Jean (and Margo before her) cares about the welfare of the women involved. Her approach is likely to result in LESS violence against women. Not one of the laws she is calling to be revoked does anything to improve the safety or welfare of the women involved in the industry, and most of them actually put women at increased risk.

Let's try listening to the women affected by these laws for once, eh?

Robin Barclay

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 19:05

Surely simply legalise sex for sale but prosecute its purchase. Keeps the victims out of the criminal justice system but focuses on criminalising the market?

Robin Barclay

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 10:35

I disagree with some of what you've said, like "They involved hurting the woman, doing things they would never ask their wife or girlfriends to do and the glory of having this power over the women.". Whilst some men do indeed get off on this power or on inflicting pain, it is not ALL men who want that. Plenty of men use prostitutes to have sex when they are unable to get it without paying for it or for numerous other reasons. Also, you forget to take into account male escorts, rent boys, etc though obviously their number almost pales into insignificance compared to female prostitutes.

However, I do agree that more should be done to prevent violence and to help women who are on the game for the wrong reasons. Legalising prostitution doesn't harm this aim, it helps it. If prostitution is legal, authorities, who as you already stated often know the women involved, are free to assist them with anything they need without feeling obligated to arrest them. This opens the door to offering what you suggest as a solution, like better opportunities away from the sex trade, counselling, social services assistance etc.

From there, only the women who actually want to sell sex will be doing so. There will always be a demand for it and thus there's almost always going to be women (and men) supplying it. Surely making it as safe as possible for all concerned with easy routes to exit the industry if desired is the best way forward? This is, as I understand it, what the women on the front line actually want, surely they're best-placed to suggest solutions?

Robin Barclay

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 11:45

"The majority of the men expect something more in return for payment and that often involves pain. Otherwise they would not be there."

And the data to back up that assertion is where?

Assumptions like this are unlikely to be the basis of Jean Urquhart's approach, as it is debated by fellow MSPs: so why should your wishful thinking be allowed to pass without scrutiny?

Robin Barclay

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 10:06

"I do not agree with Jean Urquhart. Her approach rests on legalising prostitution, legitimizing the men"

No, her approach rests on listening to the people most affected by current legislation - sex workers themselves - and using that to inform her actions. The writer of this article is going for the same failed ideological approach that has led us to the current situation, where sex workers are put at risk because of people's desire to stop something that simply isn't going to be stopped.

In what other sphere of life would we be happy for laws to be made without input from the people most affected by them? Surely we all want evidence-based laws? Except when it comes to banning things we would like to pretend don't go on, of course.

Jean (and Margo before her) cares about the welfare of the women involved. Her approach is likely to result in LESS violence against women. Not one of the laws she is calling to be revoked does anything to improve the safety or welfare of the women involved in the industry, and most of them actually put women at increased risk.

Let's try listening to the women affected by these laws for once, eh?

markryle

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 19:05

Surely simply legalise sex for sale but prosecute its purchase. Keeps the victims out of the criminal justice system but focuses on criminalising the market?

markryle

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 10:35

I disagree with some of what you've said, like "They involved hurting the woman, doing things they would never ask their wife or girlfriends to do and the glory of having this power over the women.". Whilst some men do indeed get off on this power or on inflicting pain, it is not ALL men who want that. Plenty of men use prostitutes to have sex when they are unable to get it without paying for it or for numerous other reasons. Also, you forget to take into account male escorts, rent boys, etc though obviously their number almost pales into insignificance compared to female prostitutes.

However, I do agree that more should be done to prevent violence and to help women who are on the game for the wrong reasons. Legalising prostitution doesn't harm this aim, it helps it. If prostitution is legal, authorities, who as you already stated often know the women involved, are free to assist them with anything they need without feeling obligated to arrest them. This opens the door to offering what you suggest as a solution, like better opportunities away from the sex trade, counselling, social services assistance etc.

From there, only the women who actually want to sell sex will be doing so. There will always be a demand for it and thus there's almost always going to be women (and men) supplying it. Surely making it as safe as possible for all concerned with easy routes to exit the industry if desired is the best way forward? This is, as I understand it, what the women on the front line actually want, surely they're best-placed to suggest solutions?

markryle

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 11:45

"The majority of the men expect something more in return for payment and that often involves pain. Otherwise they would not be there."

And the data to back up that assertion is where?

Assumptions like this are unlikely to be the basis of Jean Urquhart's approach, as it is debated by fellow MSPs: so why should your wishful thinking be allowed to pass without scrutiny?

markryle

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 10:06

"I do not agree with Jean Urquhart. Her approach rests on legalising prostitution, legitimizing the men"

No, her approach rests on listening to the people most affected by current legislation - sex workers themselves - and using that to inform her actions. The writer of this article is going for the same failed ideological approach that has led us to the current situation, where sex workers are put at risk because of people's desire to stop something that simply isn't going to be stopped.

In what other sphere of life would we be happy for laws to be made without input from the people most affected by them? Surely we all want evidence-based laws? Except when it comes to banning things we would like to pretend don't go on, of course.

Jean (and Margo before her) cares about the welfare of the women involved. Her approach is likely to result in LESS violence against women. Not one of the laws she is calling to be revoked does anything to improve the safety or welfare of the women involved in the industry, and most of them actually put women at increased risk.

Let's try listening to the women affected by these laws for once, eh?

markryle

Sat, 10/03/2015 - 10:44

There is one sentence in this article that gives me hope: "I once held this view myself."

The ability of a person to change their views based on new information is one of the healthiest and most exciting aspects of human nature.

I also "once held" many of the views in this article. However, the more I read about human rights, and about participation, agency and voice - and the more I subsequently read research with and by sex workers - the more I find articles like this really really really sad to see. Especially so given that these kinds of views seem to dominate so much of the civil society space in Scotland and the UK.

A friend on the other side of the world asked me recently for help on articulating the arguments they instinctively felt they agreed with in terms of sex workers rights, but struggled to argue coherently for when faced with people making points like those in the above article in meetings and public forums they attend. Only after sending it off did I realise it could be useful in responding to this article too, so here it is:

---

Sex workers see themselves as part of solutions, not as part of problems, and are welcoming of all who will stand alongside them to fight for their human rights. But for allies and would-be allies, we need to do some personal development work in examining and challenging our presuppositions and inherited beliefs if we are indeed to be helpful and not get in the way.

So... here are three things a lot of people don't know.

1. Many sex workers take pride in their work

This can be an artistic or artisanal sense of pride: like understanding human bodies and the art of touch; or singing and dancing; or fashion, style, clothes and looking fabulous; or mastering multiple languages, conversation and listening skills; or using body language, intuition and experience to understand people who struggle to express themselves sexually. (Remember too that there is huge diversity in the range of jobs sex workers do, and they do not all involve sexual intercourse.)

This pride can also be a more working class kind of pride, something along the lines of: "My job pays the bills and feeds my children, who the **** are you to tell me that job is not good enough?" The recent film about LGBT activists working in solidarity with striking coal miners in the UK in the 1980s was titled "Pride" because the word resonates strongly with both communities. You don't have to enjoy a dirty, dangerous, difficult (3D) job like digging coal deep under ground in order to appreciate the community, solidarity and sense of achievement (pride) in providing for your family.

So harm reduction policies or proposals (even good ones) that are based on an assumption that all sex workers would 'obviously' exit from sex work at the earliest opportunity will likely meet opposition and fail. Many sex workers argue that the right to sell sexual services is a human right they are entitled to (or, more technically, they assert their right not to be discriminated against as a consequence of their choices of consensual adult sexual partners) and that sex workers can in fact thrive in safe and healthy and even enjoyable environments.

We cannot ignore or over-rule other people's feelings and choices about what they do with their bodies - principles already well-established in the fields of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and in sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) rights. This is especially true when our reactions are often really more to do with the fact that "their" sexual choices are very different from "my" sexual choices.

So whatever strategies we support to address HIV/AIDS, or reduce violence against sex workers, or support people who use drugs, they must take into account the full spectrum of sex workers, including those who take pride in their work.

2. A job does not need to have a progressive career path in order to be valid work.

The idea of a career path - and the associated steady accumulation of wealth to pay for old age and pass on as inheritance - is ever so slightly privileged and middle class. It is certainly a luxury beyond the reach of many millions of people whose current level of wealth is measured in a few dollars per day, and whose existence is day-to-day subsistence rather than making 5, 10 (or 25) year career and investment plans. Even the poorest in the world do try and save and pass on what they can to their children, but often people's savings barely cover the costs of unexpected medical treatment.

Domestic work and a host of other manual labour jobs from seasonal agricultural work to garment factories do not necessarily provide a 'progressive career', yet they are still accepted as legitimate, if low paid, forms of work. Work that in the case of migrants is very often recognised to be better than the alternative opportunities back home. Sex work usually provides significantly higher income over shorter periods of time, with more flexibility than other available options such as domestic, agricultural or factory work. Sex workers often say their job is the best of their available options right now, in their judgement.

("My grandparents were fruit pickers, my parents were fruit pickers, and I'll be a fruit picker" ... paraphrased quote from the movie "McFarland, USA")

3. The existence of violence or abuse in an industry, including sexual violence, does not invalidate that entire line of work.

Violence is never justified outside of self defence. And sexual violence is never justified ever. All reasonable, victim-centred and rights-based efforts to prevent violence should be followed in private, public and state sectors. However, consistency, logic and common sense is called for, especially with an understanding of points 1 and 2 above.

Bus drivers in some places (like Glasgow!) are protected by reinforced plastic (Kevlar?) screens because assault of drivers was too common; trains and council offices sometimes display public information posters reminding people of staff's right to work in an environment free from violence. Nightclubs, bars, and hospital emergency departments routinely employ security staff to handle drunk or abusive or violent people. Violence against domestic workers, including sexual violence, is sadly too common, and too invisible.

In all these areas of work there are measures that can, should and are being taken to reduce and prevent violence against workers, including working with law enforcement. But nobody ever suggests 'abolishing' bars and nightclubs, or claims that driving a bus is an inherent form of violence. Nor do we send SWAT teams to raid people's homes and extract (against their will) domestic workers who miss their family and are saving their money, just because they look a bit young, or sad, or don't go out much.

Sex workers face all the same forms of violence that other people, especially women, experience all over the world: economic, psychological, physical and sexual violence in both private and public spheres. To add insult to injury however, female, male and transgender sex workers often report police themselves to be one of the primary perpetrators of violence against them; and that due to stigma and discrimination, police also very often do not take sex workers' reports of crimes committed against them by other people seriously or appropriately.

Sex workers around the world WANT to talk about the violence they experience, and they WANT to see changes made to increase their safety and reduce cases of violence. But we cannot have a meaningful conversation about violence against sex workers if we fail to distinguish between people's chosen work, and acts of violence committed against them.

In this regard, groups who insist uncompromisingly and ideologically that "all prostitution is violence against women" and resist all measures that would see even limited legal recognition of sex work are a barrier, an obstacle, to addressing violence against sex workers through workplace labour rights and progressive laws and policies including normalising relations with police. In extreme cases this can include victim blaming, failure to take reports of violence, including sexual violence, seriously, and promoting laws and policies that put increased power in the hands of police and abusive men rather than empowering sex workers.

In the words of a South African sex workers' rights activist: ""The criminalisation of sex work amounts to structural violence towards sex workers."

Further reading:

"Mapping sex work policy across the globe" (source of above quote):
http://www.rhmjournal.org.uk/2015/09/mapping-sex-work-policy-across-the-...

"Consensus Statement" from the Global Network of Sex Worker Projects, the international human rights framework applied to sex work, by sex workers:
http://www.nswp.org/resource/nswp-consensus-statement-sex-work-human-rig...

markryle

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 18:29

How long dies it take for a reader's comment to appear?

markryle

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 18:29

I've read both articles, by Cath Sullivan and Laura Lee, and the readers' comments that followed. All of it amounting to nothing more than the usual blah-blah-bullshit from people who talk about contracts, law, safety at 'work', social attitudes and 'doing the right (or right-on) thing'.

Their cool-headed and carefully crafted observations are typical of the mountains of text that can be generated by a microgram of experience.

All are careful to omit any mention of the largest endangered group who have suffered the horrors of neglect, dirt, disease, social exclusion and every imaginable kind of abuse for generations without respite or help because, shunned by society, they had and have no voice.

So, it looks like everyone is agreed that junkies and drunks who put themselves in danger for the sake of a fix or another shot of alcohol don't have children. If they did, we'd have to contemplate the frightening possibility that dear old Mum is the worst thing that could have happened to them. Their long list of 'uncles' might include a few sexual predators but who's to know and who would care? Best not, then, to mention children at all.

My guess is that none of you has ever encountered a four-year-old girl, matted with muck and covered in sores, left alone in a single-end without heat, light or food. How about a weeping, ten-year-old boy, in similarly bleak surroundings and rigid with fear, clutching so hard at a slice of dry bread that his fingers had pierced it.

Ever been asked for help by a twelve-year-old girl whose mother lay in a drunken stupor with the limp penis of an unconscious stranger draped over her leg, close to her still steaming vagina? Would that give any of you a sleepless night? It would, I suppose, if you were twelve and shared that bed with your mother.

If you're afraid to rock the boat, you cling to the myth of the 'whore with the heart of gold'. The big question, we're told, is whether or not soliciting should be a crime. I'm putting infanticide, physical violence, sexual abuse and neglect way above that on my list of evils directly attributed to the 'work' of good-time-girls who give a fuck for anyone but their children.

Prostitution is neither a public service nor a social necessity. It's a filthy business that has ruined the lives of countless innocent victims. Many of those have managed to rebuild their lives, with courage and commitment that wasn't learned at their mothers' knees, but dark memories prevail.

It would take a great deal of that courage to write an article from that perspective. That's, probably, why I've never read one.

Ban it!

Karen Dietz

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 19:05

Surely simply legalise sex for sale but prosecute its purchase. Keeps the victims out of the criminal justice system but focuses on criminalising the market?

Karen Dietz

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 10:35

I disagree with some of what you've said, like "They involved hurting the woman, doing things they would never ask their wife or girlfriends to do and the glory of having this power over the women.". Whilst some men do indeed get off on this power or on inflicting pain, it is not ALL men who want that. Plenty of men use prostitutes to have sex when they are unable to get it without paying for it or for numerous other reasons. Also, you forget to take into account male escorts, rent boys, etc though obviously their number almost pales into insignificance compared to female prostitutes.

However, I do agree that more should be done to prevent violence and to help women who are on the game for the wrong reasons. Legalising prostitution doesn't harm this aim, it helps it. If prostitution is legal, authorities, who as you already stated often know the women involved, are free to assist them with anything they need without feeling obligated to arrest them. This opens the door to offering what you suggest as a solution, like better opportunities away from the sex trade, counselling, social services assistance etc.

From there, only the women who actually want to sell sex will be doing so. There will always be a demand for it and thus there's almost always going to be women (and men) supplying it. Surely making it as safe as possible for all concerned with easy routes to exit the industry if desired is the best way forward? This is, as I understand it, what the women on the front line actually want, surely they're best-placed to suggest solutions?

Karen Dietz

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 11:45

"The majority of the men expect something more in return for payment and that often involves pain. Otherwise they would not be there."

And the data to back up that assertion is where?

Assumptions like this are unlikely to be the basis of Jean Urquhart's approach, as it is debated by fellow MSPs: so why should your wishful thinking be allowed to pass without scrutiny?

Karen Dietz

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 10:06

"I do not agree with Jean Urquhart. Her approach rests on legalising prostitution, legitimizing the men"

No, her approach rests on listening to the people most affected by current legislation - sex workers themselves - and using that to inform her actions. The writer of this article is going for the same failed ideological approach that has led us to the current situation, where sex workers are put at risk because of people's desire to stop something that simply isn't going to be stopped.

In what other sphere of life would we be happy for laws to be made without input from the people most affected by them? Surely we all want evidence-based laws? Except when it comes to banning things we would like to pretend don't go on, of course.

Jean (and Margo before her) cares about the welfare of the women involved. Her approach is likely to result in LESS violence against women. Not one of the laws she is calling to be revoked does anything to improve the safety or welfare of the women involved in the industry, and most of them actually put women at increased risk.

Let's try listening to the women affected by these laws for once, eh?

Roisin Murphy

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 19:05

Surely simply legalise sex for sale but prosecute its purchase. Keeps the victims out of the criminal justice system but focuses on criminalising the market?

Roisin Murphy

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 10:35

I disagree with some of what you've said, like "They involved hurting the woman, doing things they would never ask their wife or girlfriends to do and the glory of having this power over the women.". Whilst some men do indeed get off on this power or on inflicting pain, it is not ALL men who want that. Plenty of men use prostitutes to have sex when they are unable to get it without paying for it or for numerous other reasons. Also, you forget to take into account male escorts, rent boys, etc though obviously their number almost pales into insignificance compared to female prostitutes.

However, I do agree that more should be done to prevent violence and to help women who are on the game for the wrong reasons. Legalising prostitution doesn't harm this aim, it helps it. If prostitution is legal, authorities, who as you already stated often know the women involved, are free to assist them with anything they need without feeling obligated to arrest them. This opens the door to offering what you suggest as a solution, like better opportunities away from the sex trade, counselling, social services assistance etc.

From there, only the women who actually want to sell sex will be doing so. There will always be a demand for it and thus there's almost always going to be women (and men) supplying it. Surely making it as safe as possible for all concerned with easy routes to exit the industry if desired is the best way forward? This is, as I understand it, what the women on the front line actually want, surely they're best-placed to suggest solutions?

Roisin Murphy

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 11:45

"The majority of the men expect something more in return for payment and that often involves pain. Otherwise they would not be there."

And the data to back up that assertion is where?

Assumptions like this are unlikely to be the basis of Jean Urquhart's approach, as it is debated by fellow MSPs: so why should your wishful thinking be allowed to pass without scrutiny?

Roisin Murphy

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 10:06

"I do not agree with Jean Urquhart. Her approach rests on legalising prostitution, legitimizing the men"

No, her approach rests on listening to the people most affected by current legislation - sex workers themselves - and using that to inform her actions. The writer of this article is going for the same failed ideological approach that has led us to the current situation, where sex workers are put at risk because of people's desire to stop something that simply isn't going to be stopped.

In what other sphere of life would we be happy for laws to be made without input from the people most affected by them? Surely we all want evidence-based laws? Except when it comes to banning things we would like to pretend don't go on, of course.

Jean (and Margo before her) cares about the welfare of the women involved. Her approach is likely to result in LESS violence against women. Not one of the laws she is calling to be revoked does anything to improve the safety or welfare of the women involved in the industry, and most of them actually put women at increased risk.

Let's try listening to the women affected by these laws for once, eh?

Roisin Murphy

Sat, 10/03/2015 - 10:44

There is one sentence in this article that gives me hope: "I once held this view myself."

The ability of a person to change their views based on new information is one of the healthiest and most exciting aspects of human nature.

I also "once held" many of the views in this article. However, the more I read about human rights, and about participation, agency and voice - and the more I subsequently read research with and by sex workers - the more I find articles like this really really really sad to see. Especially so given that these kinds of views seem to dominate so much of the civil society space in Scotland and the UK.

A friend on the other side of the world asked me recently for help on articulating the arguments they instinctively felt they agreed with in terms of sex workers rights, but struggled to argue coherently for when faced with people making points like those in the above article in meetings and public forums they attend. Only after sending it off did I realise it could be useful in responding to this article too, so here it is:

---

Sex workers see themselves as part of solutions, not as part of problems, and are welcoming of all who will stand alongside them to fight for their human rights. But for allies and would-be allies, we need to do some personal development work in examining and challenging our presuppositions and inherited beliefs if we are indeed to be helpful and not get in the way.

So... here are three things a lot of people don't know.

1. Many sex workers take pride in their work

This can be an artistic or artisanal sense of pride: like understanding human bodies and the art of touch; or singing and dancing; or fashion, style, clothes and looking fabulous; or mastering multiple languages, conversation and listening skills; or using body language, intuition and experience to understand people who struggle to express themselves sexually. (Remember too that there is huge diversity in the range of jobs sex workers do, and they do not all involve sexual intercourse.)

This pride can also be a more working class kind of pride, something along the lines of: "My job pays the bills and feeds my children, who the **** are you to tell me that job is not good enough?" The recent film about LGBT activists working in solidarity with striking coal miners in the UK in the 1980s was titled "Pride" because the word resonates strongly with both communities. You don't have to enjoy a dirty, dangerous, difficult (3D) job like digging coal deep under ground in order to appreciate the community, solidarity and sense of achievement (pride) in providing for your family.

So harm reduction policies or proposals (even good ones) that are based on an assumption that all sex workers would 'obviously' exit from sex work at the earliest opportunity will likely meet opposition and fail. Many sex workers argue that the right to sell sexual services is a human right they are entitled to (or, more technically, they assert their right not to be discriminated against as a consequence of their choices of consensual adult sexual partners) and that sex workers can in fact thrive in safe and healthy and even enjoyable environments.

We cannot ignore or over-rule other people's feelings and choices about what they do with their bodies - principles already well-established in the fields of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and in sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) rights. This is especially true when our reactions are often really more to do with the fact that "their" sexual choices are very different from "my" sexual choices.

So whatever strategies we support to address HIV/AIDS, or reduce violence against sex workers, or support people who use drugs, they must take into account the full spectrum of sex workers, including those who take pride in their work.

2. A job does not need to have a progressive career path in order to be valid work.

The idea of a career path - and the associated steady accumulation of wealth to pay for old age and pass on as inheritance - is ever so slightly privileged and middle class. It is certainly a luxury beyond the reach of many millions of people whose current level of wealth is measured in a few dollars per day, and whose existence is day-to-day subsistence rather than making 5, 10 (or 25) year career and investment plans. Even the poorest in the world do try and save and pass on what they can to their children, but often people's savings barely cover the costs of unexpected medical treatment.

Domestic work and a host of other manual labour jobs from seasonal agricultural work to garment factories do not necessarily provide a 'progressive career', yet they are still accepted as legitimate, if low paid, forms of work. Work that in the case of migrants is very often recognised to be better than the alternative opportunities back home. Sex work usually provides significantly higher income over shorter periods of time, with more flexibility than other available options such as domestic, agricultural or factory work. Sex workers often say their job is the best of their available options right now, in their judgement.

("My grandparents were fruit pickers, my parents were fruit pickers, and I'll be a fruit picker" ... paraphrased quote from the movie "McFarland, USA")

3. The existence of violence or abuse in an industry, including sexual violence, does not invalidate that entire line of work.

Violence is never justified outside of self defence. And sexual violence is never justified ever. All reasonable, victim-centred and rights-based efforts to prevent violence should be followed in private, public and state sectors. However, consistency, logic and common sense is called for, especially with an understanding of points 1 and 2 above.

Bus drivers in some places (like Glasgow!) are protected by reinforced plastic (Kevlar?) screens because assault of drivers was too common; trains and council offices sometimes display public information posters reminding people of staff's right to work in an environment free from violence. Nightclubs, bars, and hospital emergency departments routinely employ security staff to handle drunk or abusive or violent people. Violence against domestic workers, including sexual violence, is sadly too common, and too invisible.

In all these areas of work there are measures that can, should and are being taken to reduce and prevent violence against workers, including working with law enforcement. But nobody ever suggests 'abolishing' bars and nightclubs, or claims that driving a bus is an inherent form of violence. Nor do we send SWAT teams to raid people's homes and extract (against their will) domestic workers who miss their family and are saving their money, just because they look a bit young, or sad, or don't go out much.

Sex workers face all the same forms of violence that other people, especially women, experience all over the world: economic, psychological, physical and sexual violence in both private and public spheres. To add insult to injury however, female, male and transgender sex workers often report police themselves to be one of the primary perpetrators of violence against them; and that due to stigma and discrimination, police also very often do not take sex workers' reports of crimes committed against them by other people seriously or appropriately.

Sex workers around the world WANT to talk about the violence they experience, and they WANT to see changes made to increase their safety and reduce cases of violence. But we cannot have a meaningful conversation about violence against sex workers if we fail to distinguish between people's chosen work, and acts of violence committed against them.

In this regard, groups who insist uncompromisingly and ideologically that "all prostitution is violence against women" and resist all measures that would see even limited legal recognition of sex work are a barrier, an obstacle, to addressing violence against sex workers through workplace labour rights and progressive laws and policies including normalising relations with police. In extreme cases this can include victim blaming, failure to take reports of violence, including sexual violence, seriously, and promoting laws and policies that put increased power in the hands of police and abusive men rather than empowering sex workers.

In the words of a South African sex workers' rights activist: ""The criminalisation of sex work amounts to structural violence towards sex workers."

Further reading:

"Mapping sex work policy across the globe" (source of above quote):
http://www.rhmjournal.org.uk/2015/09/mapping-sex-work-policy-across-the-...

"Consensus Statement" from the Global Network of Sex Worker Projects, the international human rights framework applied to sex work, by sex workers:
http://www.nswp.org/resource/nswp-consensus-statement-sex-work-human-rig...

Roisin Murphy

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 18:29

How long dies it take for a reader's comment to appear?

Roisin Murphy

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 18:29

I've read both articles, by Cath Sullivan and Laura Lee, and the readers' comments that followed. All of it amounting to nothing more than the usual blah-blah-bullshit from people who talk about contracts, law, safety at 'work', social attitudes and 'doing the right (or right-on) thing'.

Their cool-headed and carefully crafted observations are typical of the mountains of text that can be generated by a microgram of experience.

All are careful to omit any mention of the largest endangered group who have suffered the horrors of neglect, dirt, disease, social exclusion and every imaginable kind of abuse for generations without respite or help because, shunned by society, they had and have no voice.

So, it looks like everyone is agreed that junkies and drunks who put themselves in danger for the sake of a fix or another shot of alcohol don't have children. If they did, we'd have to contemplate the frightening possibility that dear old Mum is the worst thing that could have happened to them. Their long list of 'uncles' might include a few sexual predators but who's to know and who would care? Best not, then, to mention children at all.

My guess is that none of you has ever encountered a four-year-old girl, matted with muck and covered in sores, left alone in a single-end without heat, light or food. How about a weeping, ten-year-old boy, in similarly bleak surroundings and rigid with fear, clutching so hard at a slice of dry bread that his fingers had pierced it.

Ever been asked for help by a twelve-year-old girl whose mother lay in a drunken stupor with the limp penis of an unconscious stranger draped over her leg, close to her still steaming vagina? Would that give any of you a sleepless night? It would, I suppose, if you were twelve and shared that bed with your mother.

If you're afraid to rock the boat, you cling to the myth of the 'whore with the heart of gold'. The big question, we're told, is whether or not soliciting should be a crime. I'm putting infanticide, physical violence, sexual abuse and neglect way above that on my list of evils directly attributed to the 'work' of good-time-girls who give a fuck for anyone but their children.

Prostitution is neither a public service nor a social necessity. It's a filthy business that has ruined the lives of countless innocent victims. Many of those have managed to rebuild their lives, with courage and commitment that wasn't learned at their mothers' knees, but dark memories prevail.

It would take a great deal of that courage to write an article from that perspective. That's, probably, why I've never read one.

Ban it!

William Steele

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 19:05

Surely simply legalise sex for sale but prosecute its purchase. Keeps the victims out of the criminal justice system but focuses on criminalising the market?

William Steele

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 10:35

I disagree with some of what you've said, like "They involved hurting the woman, doing things they would never ask their wife or girlfriends to do and the glory of having this power over the women.". Whilst some men do indeed get off on this power or on inflicting pain, it is not ALL men who want that. Plenty of men use prostitutes to have sex when they are unable to get it without paying for it or for numerous other reasons. Also, you forget to take into account male escorts, rent boys, etc though obviously their number almost pales into insignificance compared to female prostitutes.

However, I do agree that more should be done to prevent violence and to help women who are on the game for the wrong reasons. Legalising prostitution doesn't harm this aim, it helps it. If prostitution is legal, authorities, who as you already stated often know the women involved, are free to assist them with anything they need without feeling obligated to arrest them. This opens the door to offering what you suggest as a solution, like better opportunities away from the sex trade, counselling, social services assistance etc.

From there, only the women who actually want to sell sex will be doing so. There will always be a demand for it and thus there's almost always going to be women (and men) supplying it. Surely making it as safe as possible for all concerned with easy routes to exit the industry if desired is the best way forward? This is, as I understand it, what the women on the front line actually want, surely they're best-placed to suggest solutions?

William Steele

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 11:45

"The majority of the men expect something more in return for payment and that often involves pain. Otherwise they would not be there."

And the data to back up that assertion is where?

Assumptions like this are unlikely to be the basis of Jean Urquhart's approach, as it is debated by fellow MSPs: so why should your wishful thinking be allowed to pass without scrutiny?

William Steele

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 10:06

"I do not agree with Jean Urquhart. Her approach rests on legalising prostitution, legitimizing the men"

No, her approach rests on listening to the people most affected by current legislation - sex workers themselves - and using that to inform her actions. The writer of this article is going for the same failed ideological approach that has led us to the current situation, where sex workers are put at risk because of people's desire to stop something that simply isn't going to be stopped.

In what other sphere of life would we be happy for laws to be made without input from the people most affected by them? Surely we all want evidence-based laws? Except when it comes to banning things we would like to pretend don't go on, of course.

Jean (and Margo before her) cares about the welfare of the women involved. Her approach is likely to result in LESS violence against women. Not one of the laws she is calling to be revoked does anything to improve the safety or welfare of the women involved in the industry, and most of them actually put women at increased risk.

Let's try listening to the women affected by these laws for once, eh?

William Steele

Sat, 10/03/2015 - 10:44

There is one sentence in this article that gives me hope: "I once held this view myself."

The ability of a person to change their views based on new information is one of the healthiest and most exciting aspects of human nature.

I also "once held" many of the views in this article. However, the more I read about human rights, and about participation, agency and voice - and the more I subsequently read research with and by sex workers - the more I find articles like this really really really sad to see. Especially so given that these kinds of views seem to dominate so much of the civil society space in Scotland and the UK.

A friend on the other side of the world asked me recently for help on articulating the arguments they instinctively felt they agreed with in terms of sex workers rights, but struggled to argue coherently for when faced with people making points like those in the above article in meetings and public forums they attend. Only after sending it off did I realise it could be useful in responding to this article too, so here it is:

---

Sex workers see themselves as part of solutions, not as part of problems, and are welcoming of all who will stand alongside them to fight for their human rights. But for allies and would-be allies, we need to do some personal development work in examining and challenging our presuppositions and inherited beliefs if we are indeed to be helpful and not get in the way.

So... here are three things a lot of people don't know.

1. Many sex workers take pride in their work

This can be an artistic or artisanal sense of pride: like understanding human bodies and the art of touch; or singing and dancing; or fashion, style, clothes and looking fabulous; or mastering multiple languages, conversation and listening skills; or using body language, intuition and experience to understand people who struggle to express themselves sexually. (Remember too that there is huge diversity in the range of jobs sex workers do, and they do not all involve sexual intercourse.)

This pride can also be a more working class kind of pride, something along the lines of: "My job pays the bills and feeds my children, who the **** are you to tell me that job is not good enough?" The recent film about LGBT activists working in solidarity with striking coal miners in the UK in the 1980s was titled "Pride" because the word resonates strongly with both communities. You don't have to enjoy a dirty, dangerous, difficult (3D) job like digging coal deep under ground in order to appreciate the community, solidarity and sense of achievement (pride) in providing for your family.

So harm reduction policies or proposals (even good ones) that are based on an assumption that all sex workers would 'obviously' exit from sex work at the earliest opportunity will likely meet opposition and fail. Many sex workers argue that the right to sell sexual services is a human right they are entitled to (or, more technically, they assert their right not to be discriminated against as a consequence of their choices of consensual adult sexual partners) and that sex workers can in fact thrive in safe and healthy and even enjoyable environments.

We cannot ignore or over-rule other people's feelings and choices about what they do with their bodies - principles already well-established in the fields of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and in sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) rights. This is especially true when our reactions are often really more to do with the fact that "their" sexual choices are very different from "my" sexual choices.

So whatever strategies we support to address HIV/AIDS, or reduce violence against sex workers, or support people who use drugs, they must take into account the full spectrum of sex workers, including those who take pride in their work.

2. A job does not need to have a progressive career path in order to be valid work.

The idea of a career path - and the associated steady accumulation of wealth to pay for old age and pass on as inheritance - is ever so slightly privileged and middle class. It is certainly a luxury beyond the reach of many millions of people whose current level of wealth is measured in a few dollars per day, and whose existence is day-to-day subsistence rather than making 5, 10 (or 25) year career and investment plans. Even the poorest in the world do try and save and pass on what they can to their children, but often people's savings barely cover the costs of unexpected medical treatment.

Domestic work and a host of other manual labour jobs from seasonal agricultural work to garment factories do not necessarily provide a 'progressive career', yet they are still accepted as legitimate, if low paid, forms of work. Work that in the case of migrants is very often recognised to be better than the alternative opportunities back home. Sex work usually provides significantly higher income over shorter periods of time, with more flexibility than other available options such as domestic, agricultural or factory work. Sex workers often say their job is the best of their available options right now, in their judgement.

("My grandparents were fruit pickers, my parents were fruit pickers, and I'll be a fruit picker" ... paraphrased quote from the movie "McFarland, USA")

3. The existence of violence or abuse in an industry, including sexual violence, does not invalidate that entire line of work.

Violence is never justified outside of self defence. And sexual violence is never justified ever. All reasonable, victim-centred and rights-based efforts to prevent violence should be followed in private, public and state sectors. However, consistency, logic and common sense is called for, especially with an understanding of points 1 and 2 above.

Bus drivers in some places (like Glasgow!) are protected by reinforced plastic (Kevlar?) screens because assault of drivers was too common; trains and council offices sometimes display public information posters reminding people of staff's right to work in an environment free from violence. Nightclubs, bars, and hospital emergency departments routinely employ security staff to handle drunk or abusive or violent people. Violence against domestic workers, including sexual violence, is sadly too common, and too invisible.

In all these areas of work there are measures that can, should and are being taken to reduce and prevent violence against workers, including working with law enforcement. But nobody ever suggests 'abolishing' bars and nightclubs, or claims that driving a bus is an inherent form of violence. Nor do we send SWAT teams to raid people's homes and extract (against their will) domestic workers who miss their family and are saving their money, just because they look a bit young, or sad, or don't go out much.

Sex workers face all the same forms of violence that other people, especially women, experience all over the world: economic, psychological, physical and sexual violence in both private and public spheres. To add insult to injury however, female, male and transgender sex workers often report police themselves to be one of the primary perpetrators of violence against them; and that due to stigma and discrimination, police also very often do not take sex workers' reports of crimes committed against them by other people seriously or appropriately.

Sex workers around the world WANT to talk about the violence they experience, and they WANT to see changes made to increase their safety and reduce cases of violence. But we cannot have a meaningful conversation about violence against sex workers if we fail to distinguish between people's chosen work, and acts of violence committed against them.

In this regard, groups who insist uncompromisingly and ideologically that "all prostitution is violence against women" and resist all measures that would see even limited legal recognition of sex work are a barrier, an obstacle, to addressing violence against sex workers through workplace labour rights and progressive laws and policies including normalising relations with police. In extreme cases this can include victim blaming, failure to take reports of violence, including sexual violence, seriously, and promoting laws and policies that put increased power in the hands of police and abusive men rather than empowering sex workers.

In the words of a South African sex workers' rights activist: ""The criminalisation of sex work amounts to structural violence towards sex workers."

Further reading:

"Mapping sex work policy across the globe" (source of above quote):
http://www.rhmjournal.org.uk/2015/09/mapping-sex-work-policy-across-the-...

"Consensus Statement" from the Global Network of Sex Worker Projects, the international human rights framework applied to sex work, by sex workers:
http://www.nswp.org/resource/nswp-consensus-statement-sex-work-human-rig...

William Steele

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 18:29

How long dies it take for a reader's comment to appear?

William Steele

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 18:29

I've read both articles, by Cath Sullivan and Laura Lee, and the readers' comments that followed. All of it amounting to nothing more than the usual blah-blah-bullshit from people who talk about contracts, law, safety at 'work', social attitudes and 'doing the right (or right-on) thing'.

Their cool-headed and carefully crafted observations are typical of the mountains of text that can be generated by a microgram of experience.

All are careful to omit any mention of the largest endangered group who have suffered the horrors of neglect, dirt, disease, social exclusion and every imaginable kind of abuse for generations without respite or help because, shunned by society, they had and have no voice.

So, it looks like everyone is agreed that junkies and drunks who put themselves in danger for the sake of a fix or another shot of alcohol don't have children. If they did, we'd have to contemplate the frightening possibility that dear old Mum is the worst thing that could have happened to them. Their long list of 'uncles' might include a few sexual predators but who's to know and who would care? Best not, then, to mention children at all.

My guess is that none of you has ever encountered a four-year-old girl, matted with muck and covered in sores, left alone in a single-end without heat, light or food. How about a weeping, ten-year-old boy, in similarly bleak surroundings and rigid with fear, clutching so hard at a slice of dry bread that his fingers had pierced it.

Ever been asked for help by a twelve-year-old girl whose mother lay in a drunken stupor with the limp penis of an unconscious stranger draped over her leg, close to her still steaming vagina? Would that give any of you a sleepless night? It would, I suppose, if you were twelve and shared that bed with your mother.

If you're afraid to rock the boat, you cling to the myth of the 'whore with the heart of gold'. The big question, we're told, is whether or not soliciting should be a crime. I'm putting infanticide, physical violence, sexual abuse and neglect way above that on my list of evils directly attributed to the 'work' of good-time-girls who give a fuck for anyone but their children.

Prostitution is neither a public service nor a social necessity. It's a filthy business that has ruined the lives of countless innocent victims. Many of those have managed to rebuild their lives, with courage and commitment that wasn't learned at their mothers' knees, but dark memories prevail.

It would take a great deal of that courage to write an article from that perspective. That's, probably, why I've never read one.

Ban it!

Steve West

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 19:05

Surely simply legalise sex for sale but prosecute its purchase. Keeps the victims out of the criminal justice system but focuses on criminalising the market?

Steve West

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 10:35

I disagree with some of what you've said, like "They involved hurting the woman, doing things they would never ask their wife or girlfriends to do and the glory of having this power over the women.". Whilst some men do indeed get off on this power or on inflicting pain, it is not ALL men who want that. Plenty of men use prostitutes to have sex when they are unable to get it without paying for it or for numerous other reasons. Also, you forget to take into account male escorts, rent boys, etc though obviously their number almost pales into insignificance compared to female prostitutes.

However, I do agree that more should be done to prevent violence and to help women who are on the game for the wrong reasons. Legalising prostitution doesn't harm this aim, it helps it. If prostitution is legal, authorities, who as you already stated often know the women involved, are free to assist them with anything they need without feeling obligated to arrest them. This opens the door to offering what you suggest as a solution, like better opportunities away from the sex trade, counselling, social services assistance etc.

From there, only the women who actually want to sell sex will be doing so. There will always be a demand for it and thus there's almost always going to be women (and men) supplying it. Surely making it as safe as possible for all concerned with easy routes to exit the industry if desired is the best way forward? This is, as I understand it, what the women on the front line actually want, surely they're best-placed to suggest solutions?

Steve West

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 11:45

"The majority of the men expect something more in return for payment and that often involves pain. Otherwise they would not be there."

And the data to back up that assertion is where?

Assumptions like this are unlikely to be the basis of Jean Urquhart's approach, as it is debated by fellow MSPs: so why should your wishful thinking be allowed to pass without scrutiny?

Steve West

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 10:06

"I do not agree with Jean Urquhart. Her approach rests on legalising prostitution, legitimizing the men"

No, her approach rests on listening to the people most affected by current legislation - sex workers themselves - and using that to inform her actions. The writer of this article is going for the same failed ideological approach that has led us to the current situation, where sex workers are put at risk because of people's desire to stop something that simply isn't going to be stopped.

In what other sphere of life would we be happy for laws to be made without input from the people most affected by them? Surely we all want evidence-based laws? Except when it comes to banning things we would like to pretend don't go on, of course.

Jean (and Margo before her) cares about the welfare of the women involved. Her approach is likely to result in LESS violence against women. Not one of the laws she is calling to be revoked does anything to improve the safety or welfare of the women involved in the industry, and most of them actually put women at increased risk.

Let's try listening to the women affected by these laws for once, eh?

Steve West

Sat, 10/03/2015 - 10:44

There is one sentence in this article that gives me hope: "I once held this view myself."

The ability of a person to change their views based on new information is one of the healthiest and most exciting aspects of human nature.

I also "once held" many of the views in this article. However, the more I read about human rights, and about participation, agency and voice - and the more I subsequently read research with and by sex workers - the more I find articles like this really really really sad to see. Especially so given that these kinds of views seem to dominate so much of the civil society space in Scotland and the UK.

A friend on the other side of the world asked me recently for help on articulating the arguments they instinctively felt they agreed with in terms of sex workers rights, but struggled to argue coherently for when faced with people making points like those in the above article in meetings and public forums they attend. Only after sending it off did I realise it could be useful in responding to this article too, so here it is:

---

Sex workers see themselves as part of solutions, not as part of problems, and are welcoming of all who will stand alongside them to fight for their human rights. But for allies and would-be allies, we need to do some personal development work in examining and challenging our presuppositions and inherited beliefs if we are indeed to be helpful and not get in the way.

So... here are three things a lot of people don't know.

1. Many sex workers take pride in their work

This can be an artistic or artisanal sense of pride: like understanding human bodies and the art of touch; or singing and dancing; or fashion, style, clothes and looking fabulous; or mastering multiple languages, conversation and listening skills; or using body language, intuition and experience to understand people who struggle to express themselves sexually. (Remember too that there is huge diversity in the range of jobs sex workers do, and they do not all involve sexual intercourse.)

This pride can also be a more working class kind of pride, something along the lines of: "My job pays the bills and feeds my children, who the **** are you to tell me that job is not good enough?" The recent film about LGBT activists working in solidarity with striking coal miners in the UK in the 1980s was titled "Pride" because the word resonates strongly with both communities. You don't have to enjoy a dirty, dangerous, difficult (3D) job like digging coal deep under ground in order to appreciate the community, solidarity and sense of achievement (pride) in providing for your family.

So harm reduction policies or proposals (even good ones) that are based on an assumption that all sex workers would 'obviously' exit from sex work at the earliest opportunity will likely meet opposition and fail. Many sex workers argue that the right to sell sexual services is a human right they are entitled to (or, more technically, they assert their right not to be discriminated against as a consequence of their choices of consensual adult sexual partners) and that sex workers can in fact thrive in safe and healthy and even enjoyable environments.

We cannot ignore or over-rule other people's feelings and choices about what they do with their bodies - principles already well-established in the fields of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and in sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) rights. This is especially true when our reactions are often really more to do with the fact that "their" sexual choices are very different from "my" sexual choices.

So whatever strategies we support to address HIV/AIDS, or reduce violence against sex workers, or support people who use drugs, they must take into account the full spectrum of sex workers, including those who take pride in their work.

2. A job does not need to have a progressive career path in order to be valid work.

The idea of a career path - and the associated steady accumulation of wealth to pay for old age and pass on as inheritance - is ever so slightly privileged and middle class. It is certainly a luxury beyond the reach of many millions of people whose current level of wealth is measured in a few dollars per day, and whose existence is day-to-day subsistence rather than making 5, 10 (or 25) year career and investment plans. Even the poorest in the world do try and save and pass on what they can to their children, but often people's savings barely cover the costs of unexpected medical treatment.

Domestic work and a host of other manual labour jobs from seasonal agricultural work to garment factories do not necessarily provide a 'progressive career', yet they are still accepted as legitimate, if low paid, forms of work. Work that in the case of migrants is very often recognised to be better than the alternative opportunities back home. Sex work usually provides significantly higher income over shorter periods of time, with more flexibility than other available options such as domestic, agricultural or factory work. Sex workers often say their job is the best of their available options right now, in their judgement.

("My grandparents were fruit pickers, my parents were fruit pickers, and I'll be a fruit picker" ... paraphrased quote from the movie "McFarland, USA")

3. The existence of violence or abuse in an industry, including sexual violence, does not invalidate that entire line of work.

Violence is never justified outside of self defence. And sexual violence is never justified ever. All reasonable, victim-centred and rights-based efforts to prevent violence should be followed in private, public and state sectors. However, consistency, logic and common sense is called for, especially with an understanding of points 1 and 2 above.

Bus drivers in some places (like Glasgow!) are protected by reinforced plastic (Kevlar?) screens because assault of drivers was too common; trains and council offices sometimes display public information posters reminding people of staff's right to work in an environment free from violence. Nightclubs, bars, and hospital emergency departments routinely employ security staff to handle drunk or abusive or violent people. Violence against domestic workers, including sexual violence, is sadly too common, and too invisible.

In all these areas of work there are measures that can, should and are being taken to reduce and prevent violence against workers, including working with law enforcement. But nobody ever suggests 'abolishing' bars and nightclubs, or claims that driving a bus is an inherent form of violence. Nor do we send SWAT teams to raid people's homes and extract (against their will) domestic workers who miss their family and are saving their money, just because they look a bit young, or sad, or don't go out much.

Sex workers face all the same forms of violence that other people, especially women, experience all over the world: economic, psychological, physical and sexual violence in both private and public spheres. To add insult to injury however, female, male and transgender sex workers often report police themselves to be one of the primary perpetrators of violence against them; and that due to stigma and discrimination, police also very often do not take sex workers' reports of crimes committed against them by other people seriously or appropriately.

Sex workers around the world WANT to talk about the violence they experience, and they WANT to see changes made to increase their safety and reduce cases of violence. But we cannot have a meaningful conversation about violence against sex workers if we fail to distinguish between people's chosen work, and acts of violence committed against them.

In this regard, groups who insist uncompromisingly and ideologically that "all prostitution is violence against women" and resist all measures that would see even limited legal recognition of sex work are a barrier, an obstacle, to addressing violence against sex workers through workplace labour rights and progressive laws and policies including normalising relations with police. In extreme cases this can include victim blaming, failure to take reports of violence, including sexual violence, seriously, and promoting laws and policies that put increased power in the hands of police and abusive men rather than empowering sex workers.

In the words of a South African sex workers' rights activist: ""The criminalisation of sex work amounts to structural violence towards sex workers."

Further reading:

"Mapping sex work policy across the globe" (source of above quote):
http://www.rhmjournal.org.uk/2015/09/mapping-sex-work-policy-across-the-...

"Consensus Statement" from the Global Network of Sex Worker Projects, the international human rights framework applied to sex work, by sex workers:
http://www.nswp.org/resource/nswp-consensus-statement-sex-work-human-rig...

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